It’s a worrying experience: Your bright, happy child is struggling in school.

They’re having trouble with spelling, or writing, or reading. They aren’t making progress the way they should, and they’re becoming increasingly frustrated as time goes by. At first, you encourage them to be patient, and explain that they’ll understand it all with time.

But have you considered the possibility of dyslexia?

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific primary reading disorder usually defined by deficits in word reading or reading fluency in children and adults who otherwise possess the intelligence and motivation considered necessary for accurate and fluent reading. It’s actually a learning disorder that can have a lifelong impact on someone’s ability to write, spell, and even speak.

According to Understood, an organization dedicated to helping children with learning and attention issues, dyslexia isn’t related to work ethic or intelligence. Instead, it’s a common and lifelong condition that affects how your brain processes language. A common misconception is that dyslexia is a problem of letter or word reversals; those with dyslexia are not usually prone to reversals.

People with dyslexia need to process information in a different way to understand an idea, and this can impact how they learn.

Who’s at Risk?

The Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Pediatrics note that links have been made between dyslexia and specific genes that control brain development.

It’s believed to be an inherited condition, which means it runs in the family. Your child is at a higher risk of dyslexia if you have a family history of the disorder.

How Does It Impact Learning?

For children with dyslexia, trying to read even a single word can be difficult. It also makes it hard to understand what they’re reading, or remember it afterward. Mastering the skills that lead to reading can be just as hard.

Before learning to read, children learn the sounds associated with each letter of the alphabet, or phonics. This gives kids the tools they need to “sound out” words. Once a child can sound out words, they can begin to make sense of whole sentences.

Another early reading skill is recognizing “sight” words, or words that a child instantly knows and doesn’t need to sound out. For the average child, word recognition happens after sounding out a word about a dozen times. According to Understood, a child with dyslexia may need to see a word 40 times.

Other reading skills include fluency, or the ability to read smoothly, and the ability to understand what they’re reading. This comprehension means a child can summarize what they just read and share specific details. For students with dyslexia, sounding out individual words makes it nearly impossible to read fluently or grasp the concept of what’s being read. The story becomes interrupted, and it’s easy to become frustrated very quickly.

How to Identify Dyslexia

Dyslexia affects people differently. One child’s symptoms may be completely different than another’s. Some children with dyslexia have trouble with spelling and reading. Others struggle to understand left from right, or have difficulty with more sophisticated language skills like grammar. Still others have a hard time finding the right words to express themselves. A typical example would be a child with a delay in speaking who has not learnt letters of the alphabet by kindergarten, has not begun to learn to read by first grade, and has had consistent difficulty with sounding out words.

Signs of dyslexia can also vary depending on a person’s age. Some warning signs can show up before children begin school, but dyslexia is most often identified in elementary school. This is when children are learning to read and write, and these skills are used daily. When a child is having trouble keeping up, it becomes obvious quickly.

Children too young for school may begin talking late, or have difficulty learning new words, playing rhyming games, or learning nursery rhymes.

Signs of Dyslexia in Preschoolers and Kindergartners

  • difficulty recognizing letters
  • difficulty matching letters to sounds
  • difficulty blending sounds to make words
  • mixes up pronunciation, such as saying “aminal” instead of “animal”
  • difficulty learning new words
  • seems to have a smaller vocabulary than other children the same age
  • difficulty rhyming
  • difficulty with common sequences, like the days of the week, months of the year, counting

Signs of Dyslexia in Elementary and Middle School Students

  • difficulty with spelling and reading
  • difficulty remembering numbers and facts; tries to memorize everything
  • mixes up the order of letters in a word, such as writing “slaw” instead of “laws”
  • difficulty using correct grammar
  • difficulty with mathematical word problems
  • difficulty sounding out new words
  • difficulty following directions that have more than one step

The Takeaway

If you think your child may have dyslexia, speak to their teacher and doctor. While there’s no single test for diagnosing this learning disorder, there are many factors to be considered. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may do any of the following.

  • ask questions about your child’s medical history, development, educational issues, and home life
  • perform vision, hearing, or neurological tests
  • refer you to a specialist for psychological and learning tests

Doctors and specialists can then offer recommendations to help your child learn in the most appropriate way. There are many resources available for children with dyslexia, and the earlier you diagnose this learning disorder, the earlier your child can get the help they need to be successful.